Saturday, April 25, 2009

Chickens falling from the sky

Last week was very busy! Wednesday and Thursday we worked on finishing the coop - or at least getting it ready for chickens. Jeremy put the hardware cloth on all around the coop. It extends down 8-10 inches into the trench we dug. As Jeremy did this part, I followed behind him filling in the trench with gravel. So the bottom of the hardware cloth is buried and hopefully the coop is critter-proof.

Friday was the big day. We loaded up food and water containers and other chicken paraphernalia and then lastly the chickens. They went into two of our packing boxes. They were freaked out for a bit, but when we closed the lids they all settled down and got very quiet.

It was a quick drive over to the new house and we carried our boxes of chickens to the coop. We put the boxes down gently and opened the lids. The chickens would not get out.

After some time a brave one or two jumped up on the edges of the boxes - but mostly so they could see what was going on in the other boxes and perhaps join their sisters on the other side.

I finally got impatient and put a couple chickens out into the coop. They would not move a muscle.

I guess the whole move was a bit stressful and overwhelming for them. We finally got them out of the boxes and put them up in the hen house. We thought that might feel a bit more homey to them. Unfortunately, they've spent their lives so far in a solid-bottomed box. They aren't used to there being a hole in the middle of their home, so they'll be walking along and then just step straight into the hole and fall out! They're kind of dumb.

24 hours later the chickens were much more acclimated and really enjoying pecking and scratching around in the coop. And... most of them made it down to the run by falling through the hole!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rollin', rollin', rollin' (and pushin' and pullin'!)

Ever since we found out we'd be moving, we've been thinking about how to move the chicken coop. In fact, Jeremy designed and built the coop with the idea that we might have to move it someday. That's not to say that it's light and can be moved easily - more that it can be moved without necessarily falling to pieces.

The final days of preparation arrived last week. Jeremy rented some pallet jacks, stacked some pallets under the coop, and lifted the coop up into the air.

He hauled the concrete piers down to the new house, dug a trench, and placed the piers.

We were set and just needed volunteers to help us haul the thing out. Sunday dawned wet and cold - the first wet cold day in weeks! I suppose it made our work easier in the end though.

So about 2:00 Terry, Joseph, and Debra came by. Joseph took charge and got us moving. Pallet jacks can turn a pretty tight circle, but there was a coop sticking off the pallets in several feet each way. There was also a fence and pile of dirt to navigate around. As we started pushing on the coop there were some ominous cracking and creaking sounds which turned out to be the plywood we were rolling across. We had to lay down plywood over the ground because the pallet jack wheels would just sink into the dirt (which did happen a time or two).

As we rolled clear of the first piece of plywood (5/8 - 3/4" thick!) the wheels landed on a piece of particle board and punched straight through! We had to jack up the jack and push the coop back into place. We got some more plywood in place and were finally able to move the coop out of its birthplace, across the sidewalk, over the top of our garden, and into the yard!

I think about that time, one of our neighbors, John, came home and I invited him to come help. He came right over! We kept pushing the coop across the yard and every time we cleared some plywood someone ran the wood to the front of the queue. After much planning (and really only some measuring) we had decided to take apart the back fence and push the coop through there. It fit perfectly! With barely an inch to spare between the stacks of limestone pavers on the left and the fence and blackberry vines on the right. But we pushed it through and made it to alley where we could give up the plywood and roll on smooth asphalt. (That's when neighbor Greg joined us! His wife Mina came along for a bit, but the whole thing made her nervous so she went back home!)

(thanks to Adam for filming this one!)

As you can see, it was no problem moving down the road. We did have to push/pull and balance the coop as we went but this was probably the easiest part of the move. What Jeremy and I were dreading was incline up to our yard. It would have been ideal to take the chicken coop down the alley and in through the back, but we have this lovely 7 foot high fence that is relatively new and really secured in place. We didn't want to cut it down - so over the sidewalk, up the retaining wall, and through the front yard it had to be!

As soon as we neared the new house, our neighbor Peter came out and Greg's dad, Bruce (who lives down the street), came over. A number of other neighbors came out to watch as well. As we began to build our ramp up to the yard, a few people had doubts about the whole ramp business. We decided to try carrying the coop. We all got around the coop, got in position, counted to three, and lifted the coop - for about two seconds before easing it back down! It was way, way too heavy to carry. So - back to the ramp idea.

We had found a futon frame in the alley last fall (thanks Elise!) and that worked perfectly. We put the frame pieces into position and supported those with blocks from the retaining wall and bits of wood, then we put the plywood over the top of the whole thing. Then, we simply rolled the coop up the ramp! And it worked beautifully.

Once the coop was up in the yard we continued bringing pieces of plywood forward and kept pushing on. We had to flatten all of our tulips under the plywood - but they came back up nearly unscathed.

The next tricky part was getting the coop between the side of the house and the stand of birch trees. We had measured this (somewhat) and thought we had clearance, but, as you can see, there wasn't quite enough clearance. We were several inches short. When talk of cutting down that beautiful tree started, a couple of us started thinking hard. We had had to pull back several branches of the cherry tree when we were going past that - why not a whole tree? So Joseph tossed a rope up as high as he could get, tied it around himself, leaned back, and we had all the clearance we needed!

Sorry I don't have photos of that - but of course all hands were needed for these tricky parts.

We finally got the coop to the back yard and with a bit more maneuvering lowered it into place.

The coop survived the move remarkably well. We did lose some boards from the run part - but more because people lifted on those parts or they got caught by bushes and trees on the way. It's all put back together now and Jeremy will be putting the finishing touches on this week. Then the chickens move in on Friday!

Huge thank you's to Joseph, Debra, Terry, John, Greg, Peter, Bruce, Wendy, Adam, and to the various neighbors who dropped by to see the action, and even to the other Wendy who got here just in time to see the coop lowered to its final resting spot. We couldn't have done it without you all! And, as I think these folks will agree, we couldn't have done it without Someone Else who was surely watching out for this whole crazy adventure.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"The Plan"

Plan A: As soon as we get the house, get rid of the octopus in the basement: the really old gravity furnace. Get a really efficient new furnace.

Wait! Wait!

Plan B: Get rid of the octopus (or not), but put in a new, better water heater and hook it up to a radiant heat system throughout the house, then later on we can get solar panels on the house to power the hot water heater and our heat will be provided by the sun!!

Wait. This plan is way too expensive and not very practical for us unfortunately. Back to plan A.

Wait! It turns out these old Octopuses (they don't make them like they used to) last forever and ours is probably fine.

Plan C: Get the octopus plugged into gas and we're good to go!


Plan C1: in addition to the octopus, lets get a pellet stove for the living room in the house. We can close off the heating to the living room and top floor and the pellet stove will heat those. That way we'll have redundant heating systems and at least one source of heat if the other fails. Perfect!

Slight problem with pilot light staying on in the octopus.

Plan C2: replace the octopus generator and if that doesn't work do a modification by replacing the machine bits that keep the pilot light going.

"Slight" problem there: This octopus is so old that it doesn't have some safety things so the gas company won't even work with the old beast (unless we had some special door made for it, for thousands of dollars). So, scratch that plan.

back to plan A.


Plan D: Let's just get rid of the octopus and put in a pellet stove on the main floor anyway. One guy we talked to said that it should heat the house fine. Super!

Wait. It may give off heat, but the basement is currently at 40 degrees and like 90% humidity. If there is no heat source down there, no amount of heating upstairs will help. The floor will be cold and the cold will travel up. Hmmm.

Plan E: Let's put a big pellet stove in the basement!!

Okay, that's kind of silly and defeats the purpose of having a lovely stove. We don't want to visit it in the basement.

Plan A: Get rid of the octopus in the basement: the really old gravity furnace. Get a really efficient new furnace.

That's it. That's the plan. (We're pretty sure...)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Murder most...fowl

Not really murder, but today Fluffycheeks met his end. We had to send him to rooster heaven before the move to the new house. The new neighbors are not keen on roosters - and Fluffycheeks was really keen on crowing at 3:00 in the morning.

We got some advice from old friend Carla Emery and Jeremy got everything ready. I went down to the basement and opened the brooder and Fluffy jumped right out - just like he does every time. I picked him up and carried him outside.

The end was pretty quick and he didn't squawk or crow or make any noise really. I think his last moments were relatively peaceful.

This was definitely an experiment for us since we've been planning on these being meat birds (as well as egg layers). There's an incredible sense that you've done something irrevocable. We both feel that Fluffycheeks had a good life, he was a sweet rooster, and he's going on to another purpose.

So long Fluffycheeks!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

God made dirt...

Sorry for the delay in posting - we are so busy!!

Saturday was our first moving day. We didn't get a lot of takers (actually, only one person showed up later in the afternoon) but we managed to move everything we wanted to. We got a great deal on a moving truck so we got to move all our garage stuff and our chest freezer (without even unloading the food!) and then we drove out to the burbs and picked up a used refrigerator (the only necessary appliance our house didn't come with) and we were able to move our compost bins on Sunday. That was an adventure.

Some of you may remember the compost bins we built last year. (I forgot how green and beautiful it was around here!) Anyway, since we're moving we decided to take our compost and our compost bins with us. We borrowed a friend's truck and shoveled out all the compost into her truck. We piled it as high as we could and tried to keep a separation between the mostly composted stuff and the not-at-all-composted stuff.

After nearly a year of composting and weather, the bins were a bit worn. Slats had fallen out and as we tried moving the bins more came out. We decided to detach the side bins and keep the middle intact.

Then Jeremy and I picked it up and heaved it over the fence, then sort of rolled it side over side to the moving truck and heaved it up inside. (Thaddeus showed up in the midst of this to lend a hand - yay!) With all the bits and pieces accounted for, we drove the truck to the new house, unloaded the parts, and tried to figure out how to put it back together again. We finally got it put back together and then began the fun part.

We backed up the truck to the gate and began shoveling. And shoveling, and shoveling and pitch-forking, and shoveling. A lot of the compost was actually still frozen solid in the center and there were ice crystals throughout. After we got out the not-so-composted stuff and got it put away, we began on the more-composted stuff. By now it had gotten late and dark outside - but we weren't giving up! Jeremy clipped a shop light to the garage so we could see some of the yard, but it didn't shine over the fence to the truck so it was pretty dark back there.

We split our tasks to try to make it go quicker. Jeremy moved full wheelbarrows of compost to the bins and tipped them in, while I kneeled in the back of the truck and brought piles of compost forward for him to shovel out. That compost was quite cold. And wet. Seeping through my pant legs. Sticking to my shoes. At least it didn't smell bad. =)

On Monday Debra helped me bag up all the brush and branches that had been piled in the yard. It turns out the City came through like a hurricane in September or so with weeders and mowers and choppers and hacked everything down. They were the ones who had left the big pile of brush. So that's gone now.

Good news of the week! We're getting bids for raising the roof on the south side of the house to make it a bit more livable. We'll have to insulate as well so we've been getting bids on blown-in insulation for the house. We did a little bit of demolition in the upstairs to see what some of the wall cavity looked like and found there was already blown-in insulation! Jeremy drilled a few test holes in different parts of the house and it looks like we have a completely insulated house! With a house this old (pre-1900) we were expecting little to no insulation.

The house certainly seems in bad condition now and seems a bit uncared for. But in the past someone put a lot of work into it: all new electrical, all new plumbing, blown-in insulation, new roof, and new windows! Of course the "new" roof must have been some time ago and now needs to be replaced again. Anyway, that piece of news will save us a chunk of money - to be spent somewhere else I'm sure!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

House projects begin

Yesterday was the big day! Our closing appointment was pretty short and a bit anti-climactic. We signed a bunch of papers and then our real estate agent sort of tossed the key over to us. And that was that! I guess I thought there would be a bit more fanfare, celebration, ribbons, balloons... We did have a little celebration: our real estate agent treated us to some tasty snacks at A Baker's Wife's Pastry Shop after we closed.

Then after some other paper work and errands we got down to business. I hung a painting on the wall and we plugged in the phone. That's when we realized how very few plugins are in the house. The phone line is stretched from the back wall and the plug-in cord is stretched from the wall on the right! We might just have to go with our simple phone that doesn't require electricity...

Then, Jeremy got started on a little earth moving. We need to do a little regrading around the house because it slopes toward the house in some areas instead of away. One of our bigger projects...

While he was doing that I worked on moving all the accumulated brush (which is now on the left) away from the fence where we will be putting the compost bins. Hopefully today!

All the brush will be going away - thank goodness the city just started picking up yard waste again.

Chicken permit update: we got a friend who speaks Spanish really well to go with us to the house across the alley and help us communicate with the woman there. Ellen did a great job! It was sort of sad though because the woman shared that she is from Mexico and they used to have chickens and other animals, which she loves. They have lived here ten years and they can't have animals because they rent. She will be sad that there will be chickens nearby and they aren't hers. We'll definitely have to invite her over to visit the chickens.

Today is moving day and I think we only got one volunteer - so, it may be a long day!

Friday, April 10, 2009


Remember sweet adorable little fluffy-cheeks? (He's the Americauna in the last two pictures.) Well take a look at him now:

The little stinker has been crowing mostly in the middle of the night. He woke Jeremy up at 2:45 this morning and then went back to sleep. Jeremy couldn't get back to sleep though.

Other than that I think we have a bunch of adorable hens that are getting bigger and bigger. Since we raised them from chicks I think they've bonded a bit with us (or they just like us for the food). They love to congregate where we stand in front of the brooder and they also love to hop out of the brooder and wander around on the lid. Here are some updated photos...

One of the Americaunas:

A Rhode Island Red:

And our lovely rooster again:

There is definitely a difference between the four breeds. The Rhode Island Reds generally love to be picked up and held and petted. Any one of them will settle down in my hand and stay there as long as I like. The Americaunas and Wellsummers aren't quite as amenable to handling. They don't nestle in our hands like the RIRs but we can still hold them and they calm down. The Speckled Sussex will not stand for being held. As soon as we try to pick one up, they immediately grab onto whatever they can get in their sharp little beaks: a finger, a chunk of skin, a fold of your sleeve, and they hang on until you let go. They might be a bit more defensive like this because they are the smallest of the chickens.

Very soon they'll be moving outside. I can't wait to see how they like the coop!

Closing Day

It's closing day!It's a beautiful morning, sure to be a lovely day (almost 60!) and in a couple hours we go to do the final paperwork and close on our house!

I was really looking forward to taking a picture of it with the "sold" sign attached, but they came and removed the whole sign earlier this week! I guess they're just really excited to finally be rid of the house.

The to-do list at the house is still taking shape. It will be an incredible lot of work, but the house will be incredible when we're done. More updates to come!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Signs of spring


Spring cleaning...

The rutabagas in the root cellar sprouting (must be hardy things to sprout in sand with no water and no light!)...

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Doors

Not the band, the chicken coop, of course. Jeremy has been making a lot of progress on the coop since I last reported. I'm particularly proud of the doors he just finished.

Remember the dirty old doors from the basement? Here they are on the hen house:

Here are the doors into the nest boxes, where we'll sneak the eggs out:

And here are the beautiful dutch doors into the run:

Since we're moving we have to do the whole small animal permit all over with our new neighbors. Jeremy made some rounds a month ago to sound people out and we've been going around the last couple days with the actual form collecting signatures.

We're getting many more interesting responses this time than the first time around. One neighbor is a doctor and he was concerned about diseases and the safety of having chickens. One woman had lived in the country and worried that were having too many animals in too small a space and we were being inhumane. Another man basically asked us if we had considered moving out to a farm! Some people just don't seem to think animals like this or perhaps even gardens belong in the city - that's for farmers out in the country. We explained to this man that we like to know where our food comes from, that it has a good life, and we also prefer to be in the city.

Many other neighbors have been ecstatically excited about us having chickens and many (even some naysayers) have asked if they could get eggs! We are having some difficulty getting signatures from one family where most of them only speak Spanish. Jeremy and I both speak a little Spanish, but not quite enough for this situation. We tried speaking with a woman tonight (the grandmother) but I think we ended up asking her if her grandmothers were around and if it was okay for us to have cooked chicken in our house...and perhaps some roosters or beer...I'm not sure what we said. We eventually said sorry and thanks and we'll have to come back when her grandchildren are home to translate for us.

I have a feeling we may have some more interesting discussions as the coop and chickens move in. It used to be that most people grew gardens, had chickens, and maybe other animals. But then we became "modern" and separated from our food. There are now children who have never seen a tomato growing on the vine or never seen carrots growing in the ground. There are people who don't understand where hamburger comes from!

I hear people say that they're too busy to garden, they don't know how, it's too difficult and time-consuming to can or preserve things - and thank goodness for the grocery store where they can buy everything ready made! We're more advanced now so we shouldn't have to toil and work to produce our food.
Well yes, making our own food is a lot of work. But it's also incredibly rewarding. And we are more advanced, but knowing how to grow food is still important. Perhaps we don't have time (or make time) because we work too many hours and we spend too many hours in front of the computer and the television. Things would be a lot different if people were out planting gardens and tending chickens instead of sitting in front of a screen.

[oh my, where did that soap box come from!?]

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Biggest Project Ever

Word is spreading, so I'd better inform the blog-world: Jeremy and I are buying a house!

This whole thing has happened very quickly - literally, we just started talking about this one month ago! The owners of the house where we rent are selling and moving for various reasons. It's a great time to buy and we were able to pull together some family loans to make it happen.

But when we started talking about this, I decided I didn't want to move very far - not more than a block or two from where we are now. We've put time and energy into this block and getting to know our neighbors, it's a great area, and I just didn't want to move half way across town just because we found something we could afford. But of course a one-block radius seriously limits one's options.

A day or two after the initial house conversation came up, I remembered there was a cute little house just a block away from us that was for sale. The house was still on the market. Jeremy took a look at it and he fell for the big beautiful yard. We got a real estate agent to let us in the house that week. We spent almost two hours there looking at every little detail (and already starting to make plans!).

It's a foreclosure and has been on the market for probably six months. The price dropped 2 or 3 times before we made our bid. I'll just say it's extremely affordable. (Embarrassingly affordable!) But it also needs a ton of work. We're planning to gut the top floor (which is basically a finished attic, one room) and put on a new roof. There needs to be regrading work done around the outside and sealing of some cracks in the foundation; work in the bathroom; work in the kitchen; etc, etc. Some work we have to do before we move in. And there is a long list of things we'd like to do after we move in - we'll be working on this project for a long, long time!

We'll be building a new cellar in the basement and we'll be bringing the chicken coop down the road to the new house. Jeremy is hoping to build a greenhouse at the new place and have a totally edible yard - between herbs, garden space, fruit trees, berries, edible flowers, and so forth.

Our new house already has a ton of black raspberries and blackberries, a possible currant bush, and a lovely old cherry tree. There are other plants as well that we haven't identified yet. It also has a huge kitchen so we are looking forward to making that our own for all of our crazy cooking adventures.

The neighbors are wonderful as well. The neighbor right next to us has a garden as well and he shoots squirrels and rabbits in his yard and ours (yes!!!). He's been very excited about us moving in - even letting us know when someone else came to look at the house, worried that we wouldn't get it. But, our offer has been accepted and we close in a week! So keep tuned for lots of information about this huge new project - our very own urban homestead!

our new baby...